Shanesa Debruin and her fiance promised each other in high school they'd marry if both were single at the age of 30.
But when it came to the wedding cake, it was love at first sight.
"We saw a picture online, and we just knew," said the 32-year-old Catonsville resident.
When she marries Aaron Snowden in August, the graceful swags that drape her cake will be the wine color of the calla lilies in her bouquet.
Gladys Thompson has been married for 50 years. But when she and husband Clyde Thompson Jr. renew their vows on Flag Day at Wayland Baptist Church in Baltimore, it is the cake from SugarBakers in Catonsville - with roses dusted in gold, gold pearllike trim and gold ribbon - that will steal the show.
Her son is seeing to that.
"I want everyone, when they see it, to say, `What a beautiful cake,' " said Clyde Thompson III.
The wedding cake - perhaps as much as the wedding dress - sets the theme for the day and gives wedding guests a glimpse into the bride's style.
Whether it is topped with a pair of crabs holding claws or decorated with delicate white-on-white scrollwork to match the embossed wedding invitations, the cake is the first thing the reception guests see and the last thing they eat.
Anja Winikka, editor of The Knot, a top Web destination for brides, says it is the cake that sets a wedding reception apart from just another party.
"Bridal magazines have learned to focus on it. And it is one of the most searched items on the Internet," she said. "The wedding cake has become a style statement for the bride and groom."
Martha Stewart may deserve much of the credit for taking wedding receptions out of the fire hall and putting them on the map, and her new book, Martha Stewart's Wedding Cakes, is a lavish coffee-table collection of wedding cakes.
Likewise, the heavy-duty coverage of celebrity weddings has made little-girl dreams into a much bigger business. The Jessica Simpson wedding cake, with its many tiers and many more swags, continues to be among the most popular selections at SugarBakers - and the singer has long been divorced.
"Some people aren't big cake eaters," said Winikka. "But the cake makes the room."
That will certainly be the case when Kailyn McNally and Toby Kershner get married by the water on the Eastern Shore this month.
The bridal party, in flip-flops, will be doing the limbo from the ceremony to the reception area. Kershner, who grew up in Howard County, where family crab feasts were frequent summer events, said he'd sprinkle Old Bay seasoning on his wedding cake if he thought he could get away with it.
He is settling for the crab lovebirds on top that Kim Cate, manager of Peace of Cake in Stevensville, will create for him out of fondant icing.
The couple, who live and work in North Carolina now, brought a picture from a wedding magazine for Cate to re-create for their beachy theme.
There is graham-cracker "sand" underneath the cake and a dune fence around the bottom layer and starfish and shells on the second layer. The cake itself will be covered in sky-blue icing.
"What people will remember is what the cake looked like and that they had fun," said Kershner.
When Jeremy Comstock suggested to fiancee Season Kenny that there be tennis racquets on their wedding cake, because they met on a tennis court, she took a playful swipe at him.
"She's been planning this day since she was 7 years old," said her mother, Sharon Kenny. Both sets of in-laws accompanied the couple, who live in Atlanta but will be married in December in St. Michaels, to Peace of Cake for the traditional cake tasting.
Season Kenney also brought with her a sample of her cream-colored invitation. She wanted Cate to copy the black scrollwork on one of the layers of the cake, to match the black-and-cream colors of her winter wedding.
"Simple but elegant is the theme we are going for," she said.
Simple but elegant isn't what caught the eye of Shanesea Debruin's sons, Reece Vann, 8, and Evan Vann, 5, and her fiance's son, Eric Snowden, 7, who came with her to the cake tasting she'd scheduled at SugarBakers - and helped clean the plate of the last crumbs.
The boys choose the wild, fun-house cake, covered in a kaleidoscope of color that is now a staple in wedding cake picture books, thanks to the antic imagination of Baltimore's own "Ace of Cakes," Duff Goldman.
"That's why they don't get a vote," said Debruin.
And, by the way, the plastic bride and groom cake-topper is out of style. Couples are more likely to choose fresh or sugar flowers that evoke the bride's bouquet or rhinestone initials.
Often, the wedding cake is a nod to tradition for a couple that would rather have a sundae bar instead. Or some confection that evokes their heritage, such as a French croquembouche, Italian cookies or a favorite recipe from Grandma's kitchen.
"To be honest, the meal was more important to us," said Bridget Travers, who married Troi Palmer May 24 at Christian Life Church in Baltimore and held her reception at Martin's West.